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INFO-I 302 Human-Centered Research Methods in Informatics

3 credits

  • Prerequisites: INFO 211 or instructor's approval
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • This course surveys a broad range of research methods employed in Informatics, exploring their meta-theoretical underpinnings and exemplifying their application to specific research questions. This course is intended for Informatics students who need a grounding in research methods.

    Academic research is activity intended to advance and develop the body of human knowledge, through posing questions about the world and systematically identifying answers to those questions. Systematicity implies rigor, and a spectrum of different rigorous practices have been developed to answer questions in different fields of academic inquiry. These practices are known as research methods, and they govern the most basic research processes, from recording observations to analysis and interpretation. The nature of the knowledge developed by a research study and the proper interpretation of the study itself depends on the choice of research methods it employs.

    Informatics research relies on a broad range of methods, some of which come from the social sciences, that is, those academic disciplines such as psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology (among others), which seek to understand and improve the world of human experience. Social science research methods vary on a number of dimensions: some involve highly detailed observations in a small number of specific circumstances (e.g., ethnographic observation of workplace interactions around a database system), while others require coarse observations of low detail from a large number of circumstances (e.g., a survey of a large user group); some involve deep interpretation engaging the researcher’s knowledge of the situation being observed (e.g., in a content analysis of information policy documents), while others disclaim relevance of the researcher’s specific knowledge of the situation (e.g. in quantitative studies of information traffic patterns).

    No one method suffices to answer all questions within Informatics, and so researchers in this field need to be conversant with the full range of possibilities available to them. The primary goal of this course is to fill this need by surveying a broad range of research methods and their theoretical motivations and justifications, emphasizing fit of different research methods to different research questions. It provides a foundation for both interpreting and conducting many types of research, as well as a starting point for further study of specific research methods.